Birth & Parenting Series (16): Miscarriage, the Unspoken Loss of Babies
This is part 16 of our Birth & Parenting Series. Our other parts can be found on the front page under “Birth & Parenting Series” toward the bottom, or linked here.
This is a story of loss, and having to deal with the pain of miscarriage, a terribly common burden on women today but one that goes unspoken all too often. LR writes about her experience here and I hope this can bring some community and understanding around a difficult topic. When your plan for children hasn’t gone the way you hoped, and everyone around you is having children, it can feel isolating. She writes beautifully and poignantly that you are not alone.
We had been trying for over a year, which I mention only to explain my hyper-awareness of anything and everything that could be interpreted as a pregnancy symptom. Over the course of several days earlier this year, I noticed multiple changes that just HAD to be pregnancy-related. As such, a sudden bout with nasal congestion had me in a serious quandary about whether or not it was safe for me to take medication. Though it was still two days before my period was due to start, I decided a pregnancy test was warranted. And just like that, there it was . . . a positive result! Okay, okay, I admit that the result was very faint but a positive is a positive, right?
A few days later my period was late and I was ecstatic. It was all I could think about. I played over and over in my mind how we would break the news to family. But then, in the midst of my bliss, I stumbled into a conversation at work where my coworkers opined that a faint positive on a pregnancy test means that you are not pregnant or will miscarry. I almost vomited right then and there. My coworkers, of course, had no idea.
I took another test the next morning, confident the result would be unmistakable because the amount of pregnancy hormone in my body would have more than doubled since the first test. Such a definitive result was sure to put my mind at ease. No luck, though; still super faint. Oh well, I told myself; I was going to be the one to prove my coworkers wrong. I looked forward to the day I could say, “Remember what you said about faint pregnancy tests….”
But that never happened. A couple days later I woke around 4am with intense back pain and cramping. My period started with a vengeance. I was devastated. I had to skip work; there was a baby shower scheduled for a coworker that day. Fortunately we were preparing to leave for vacation that night, so I had a ready excuse for my absence and would also have a week to recover. I was emotional at first but I soon began to question whether I had the right to be so devastated when I had only made it to four weeks and three days. Was it fair for me to say I had miscarried? Ultimately I decided it didn’t matter. I used the week away to get past the crying bouts and the self-pity. I focused on the good news: At least we knew I could get pregnant.
A little over three and a half weeks later, I was feeling different once more and that awful sinus congestion was back. Yet again it was two days before my period was due to start and yet again I got a very faint positive on a pregnancy test. I was simultaneously overjoyed and terrified. Why had I let myself test early? The faint result would haunt me. This pregnancy—if you could call it that—was now doomed. I stumbled through the next week or so waiting for the inevitable. Every day was torture. Every sensation in my abdomen and lower back was a sign of impending tragedy. Every moment when the pregnancy symptoms eased up, I knew it was almost over. (The day before my period started the prior month, my pregnancy symptoms had mysteriously disappeared.) But my period never started and I confirmed the positive result with a digital test…take that faint lines!! So I eventually made it to five weeks. And then I made it to six. Somewhere in there I allowed myself to start believing, to start planning. I reported my pregnancy to my insurance provider and made an appointment with an OB. I imagined how I wanted the nursery.
I think you know where this is going. At six weeks and one day, signs of trouble started to surface. I will spare you the gory details but by that night the intense back pain returned. It was over. I had never known such anguish. I thought I had paid my dues the month before. It was my turn! Not fair! As I meandered through the stages of grief, I struggled with what it could mean. Whereas the prior month affirmed my ability to get pregnant, this one revived concerns that I would never carry to term. It almost didn’t seem like it would be worth trying again. Why would I risk such pain?
Recovering from the miscarriage required many things, one of which was a better knowledge of miscarriage in general. So here’s what I found: for the uninitiated, the statistics regarding miscarriage can be surprising. Did you know that something like 15% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage? And note that I said “known” pregnancies; research indicates that as many as half of all pregnancies spontaneously terminate. The difference is attributed to the fact that a large percentage of pregnancies end so early that many women are not even aware of the pregnancy before it’s over. Because early termination is so common, they actually have another name for it: chemical pregnancy. That is what I experienced the first time. As depressing as those numbers may be, there is another side to the coin: most couples that experience miscarriage are NOT afflicted by any malady that will prevent a healthy pregnancy in the future. In fact, doctors usually do not become concerned until a woman miscarries three times in a row. And even then, the chances of eventually carrying to term remain high.
The numbers were only a part of my recovery. In the days that followed my miscarriage, I found myself thankful for the few women I knew that had personally shared their miscarriage stories with me. At a time when my thoughts were dominated by “why me?”s, knowledge that I wasn’t alone was vital. It was doubly helpful that every woman who shared her miscarriage story with me later carried to term. The statistics in real life.
Today the miscarriage certainly colors my life experience but it doesn’t overwhelm me. I can scroll through seemingly endless updates regarding cute babies and expectant parents on Facebook without losing it. I can keep a straight face as I field questions regarding our intentions for child-bearing and I tolerate statements from frustrated parents and miserable pregnant women who assure me that I’m lucky not to endure their plight. I grin and bear it with confidence that our journey hasn’t ended.
Meanwhile, I continue to think about those statistics. If this is so common, why do I know so few people who have miscarried? I don’t know if it’s taboo or too much information or just too painful to talk about but, when my time came, I do know how much I valued the personal stories of those who did share. You see, those women shared with me long before I knew that I too would experience miscarriage. I write now to pay it forward: I had a chemical pregnancy and I also miscarried. In back to back months. Both were miserable experiences. No amount of sharing or commiserating could have spared me the pain. But knowing I wasn’t alone did help me to recover.